The Civil Grand Jury is a judicial body composed of 19 citizens. It is impaneled to act as an “arm of the court,” as authorized by the State Constitution, to be a voice of the people, and conscience of the community.
Forty-two states have some form of Grand Jury. California is still one of the states that allows prosecution to be initiated by either a Criminal Grand Jury indictment or judicial preliminary hearing.
California impanels County Civil Grand Juries every year to conduct civil investigations of county and city government and to hear evidence to make recommendations or to decide whether to return indictments. In Merced County, if indictments need to be made, a separate criminal grand jury is impaneled.
The Evolution of the Grand Jury
The present Grand Jury system evolved from earlier ecclesiastical courts beginning in 1164 when Henry II of England impaneled the first 16-man Grand Jury to remove criminal indictments from the hands of the church. In 1635, the first American Grand Jury was impaneled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and by 1638, Grand Juries were present in all the colonies.
These early Grand Juries began the practice of returning “presentments,” which were primarily against public officials and different from criminal indictments.